Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right.

Let me set the scene: Let’s say there is this guy who happens to believe some incredibly ignorant, misguided, morally repugnant things.  Some might call him a white supremacist, others who decided to be politically incorrect, might call him a Nazi and still others might just call him a racist. Regardless of what others might call him let’s say he is so stupidly proud of his beliefs that he has a swastika tattoo and he shows it off.

Before we go any farther, let me remind everybody that our guy here has a RIGHT under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to hold these views no matter how ignorant they might be. And as long as he does not act on these views and commit a crime, he can’t be arrested for what he believes.

But now this guy, armed with his First Amendment protection, has to interact in society. So lets say he goes to a luxury hotel and tells the manager he doesn’t want to be waited on by a black waitress.  Does he have that right? The answer to that question is easy. Yes, he has the right to be stupid. And the hotel HAS AN OBLIGATION to refuse his request. He can get up and leave, but the hotel CAN’T (and shouldn’t) honor his  request. Sound familiar? That’s because I have written about this before. Go here if you want to read that post.

So now, two years later, the same issue has come up again. But this time there’s a twist. Let’s assume this time, our guy is a new father with a brand new baby who is in a hospital neonatal intensive care unit being cared for by an African-American nurse. And he doesn’t like it. So, let’s assume he goes to the charge nurse and asks that no African-Americans be allowed to care for his child. Sound far-fetched?  Check out the article in Detroit Free Press, no luxury hotel, but the hospital part, well, take a look at the article.

Now here is the shocking part, at least for me, according to the Free Press article, the hospital accommodated (I was going to say honored, but that word just didn’t fit) his request. In fact, the Freep article said the hospital went so far as to put a note on the baby’s chart indicating that no African-Americans could care for the child. And according to the Freep for the next month or so no African-American nurses were assigned to the baby’s care.

So what about that “twist” I mentioned?  Sounds like the hotel all over again, doesn’t it?  Well, the Freep article quotes a Wayne State professor saying, “This case puts ‘into tension two different facets of the law’ . . .  Patients choose their doctors, he said . . .  But there are also laws prohibiting discrimination.” There is a difference between the hospital and the hotel, isn’t there?  The father can leave the restaurant, but he can’t simply take his baby out of the hospital — not out of neonatal intensive care anyway.  So is there tension as the Wayne State professor suggests?  I don’t think so and I respectfully disagree.  There is no tension in the law. The hospital, just like the  hotel, CAN’T  honor this request.

Yes, people make decisions based on ignorant and misguided prejudices every day.  And when they keep their prejudices to themselves, there isn’t much society can do. That is part of living in a free country. So can you choose a doctor based on nothing more than the doctors race?  And by the way, the insinuation in the article that this is somehow similar to a woman who prefers to go to a female gynecologist?  Come on, not the same thing, not even close.  Any way, can you chose a doctor based on race?  I suppose you can, it’s stupid, but you can.   But when these types of individuals interact with society, they have to follow society’s  rules.  That means setting aside the ignorance and certainly not facilitating it.

The Freep article quoted another professor who got it right, in my estimation. “The patient’s father has a right to select the hospital to treat the child. The father does not have the right to exercise control over the hospital in discrimination of its employees,” he said.

You see, the hospital has some obligations here. In addition to providing excellent care to its patients, a hospital has obligations as an employer. One of those obligations is to not racially discriminate against its employees.  There are good nurses and bad nurses, black nurses and white nurses, and race has NOTHING TO DO with quality of care.  That’s right, I said it, one has nothing to do with the other.  And a hospital as an employer CAN’T, let me say that one more time, CAN’T, no matter what it’s patients want, make employment decisions based on race.

So if the allegations in the story are true is the hospital in a difficult position here?  Not in my opinion, No. The answer is easy, the hospital should have denied this man’s request. And if he doesn’t like it? Well, that’s just too bad.  Like my grandmother used to tell me: Two wrongs don’t make a right.